April 20, 2010

Is Therapy Effective for Highly Distressed Couples?

Inquiring psychologists want to know. Our clinical instincts tell us it must be true. Although we've probably all had days where we have wondered.

Now a large study, the largest of it's kind, in fact, indicates that yes, therapy can help even severely distressed couples, so long as both partners want to save the relationship.

Nearly 135 couples were included in this study. They were provided twenty-six sessions of therapy. Then they were followed for five years after the therapy. Not followed in the creepy stalking way. But assessed at six month intervals for a period of five years to see how they were doing.

"The couples all participated in one of two kinds of therapy. The first, traditional behavioral couple therapy, focuses on making positive changes, including learning better ways of communicating, especially about problems, and better ways of working toward solutions. The second, integrative behavioral couple therapy, uses similar strategies but focuses more on the emotional reactions and not just the actions that led to the emotional reactions. In this approach, couples work at understanding their spouse's emotional sensitivities."

Encouraging results were found. At the end of the study, approximately two-thirds of the couples showed significant improvement.

At the five year follow up, half of the couples remained improved. One third even went from significantly distressed to "happy." Most of us would agree that is a sign of real progress.

Not everyone was helped, however. One quarter were separated or divorced. One quarter stayed the same.

As for the two different types of treatment, long term gains were about the same whether couples participated in the traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or the Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy.
You can read more about the study in a summary posted at Science Daily, here. Or to read the study in it's entirety by following this link.

Journal Reference:
  1. Christensen et al. Marital status and satisfaction five years following a randomized clinical trial comparing traditional versus integrative behavioral couple therapy.. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2010; 78 (2): 225 DOI: 10.1037/a0018132

One more thing, Dr. Andrew Christensen (UCLA) and Dr. Brian Doss are developing an online training program for couples. If you are interested in signing up for their online study, you can sign up at OurRelationship.com, here.

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